A Desert Win Is Likely Not in the CardsPosted:Dec 24th, 2015 6:08 pm
We all know there is plenty to play for when the Packers meet the Cardinals in Arizona. A win would give the Pack an outside shot at the #2 seed and a first round playoff bye (needing a week 17 win and an Arizona loss to Seattle).
An upset win by the Pack would also provide an adrenaline rush of momentum as they prepare for the NFC North championship game next weekend at Lambeau.
But let's not get our hopes up. Not to be the Grinch or anything, but Arizona will provide a monumental test for the Pack, even if they lost their best defensive player to a torn ACL on the final play of their blowout win in Philadelphia.
The Cardinals boast the most complete offense this side of Pittsburgh, and with the emergence of rookie running back David Johnson, who channeled his inner Eric Dickerson last week and sunk my previously unbeaten fantasy team, they're even more explosive.
Johnson is a dual threat who has the speed to take it to the house and will be a big challenge for the Pack's uneven run defense. If they pay too much attention to slowing Johnson, the Packers will need to win one on one battles with Arizona's deep corps of wide receivers, with speedy John Brown, JJ Nelson and Michael Floyd outside and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald inside. Even tight end Darren Fells has gotten into the act, catching six for 97 yards the last two weeks.
We won't know until Saturday whether Sam Shields has passed through the concussion protocol and is green lighted to play. Of all the banged up Packers, he's the guy the team most needs on the field in this matchup, to take Brown or Floyd out of the equation. Once again rookies Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins will be called upon to step up in a big spot and try to contain the downfield passing attack that Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer love.
It's absolutely essential that the Pack puts some heat on Palmer. Their offensive line is mediocre and Palmer can get hit. What he hasn't done lately is turn the ball over. The Cardinals have gone four straight games without a turnover and are +10 during that span. Yet they've been in a couple of close games. In their last three home games they've beaten the Bengals by three, the 49ers by six and the Vikings by three.
Lucky for them, this game may feel like more of a road game with the number of Packer fans expected to be in attendance. Good news, bad news there. Good news: the Pack will hear the love and likely get a boost. There are reports that Carson Palmer and the offense have been working on the silent count to prepare...at home. Classic. Bad news: it really pisses off Arians, who will use it as motivation for his team. He's already blasted season ticket holders for giving up their tickets to let the Cheeseheads in.
The Cardinals will score points in this one; that's a guarantee. The question is whether the Pack's offense can keep pace, knowing they're unlikely to count on turnovers to swing momentum. The Raiders focused on stopping the run and daring the Pack to pass and for the most part it worked. Green Bay was forced to turn to Randall Cobb in the backfield and four receiver packages to answer the challenge and finally gained some offensive traction.
The Cardinals are a blitz happy bunch that doesn't get much heat on the QB unless they bring extra guys. That means the receivers need to win their man on man battles. Patrick Peterson will likely take Davante Adams away. With Tyrann Mathieu out, Randall Cobb's day got brighter: he'll likely match up with Jerraud Powers, the former Colt corner who's been playing mostly outside but moves inside with the injury to the Honey Badger. Safety Rashad Johnson is the defensive leader--he's missed the past two games but is expected back for this one.
Rodgers has been calling for Jared Abbrederis to get more run and this might be his chance. With Adams and Janis dropping balls and the Pack likely to have ore success through the air, he figures to get an opportunity to show why he's quickly earning Rodgers' trust. Andrew Quarless may also return, now that he's grabbed the roster spot from the injured Ty Montgomery.
We won't know until Saturday whether Shields and Bakhtiari are good to go--needless to say, the Pack has a much better shot of staying in this one if they are both able to play. But when you add up the Cards' explosive offense, the fact that they don't turn the ball over, they will wrap up a bye with a win and the fact that Arians will make them grumpy that there's so much green and gold in the stadium, I don't see how the Pack can keep pace. Bring on the Vikings.
Cardinals 34 Packers 24